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I am looking for the way to translate the Russian saying that goes something like this " the Devil is not as dangerous as he was described, or, in direct translation, painted". Please help!

I look for the idiom in reference to a situation, not a person.

  • Are you talking about a person or a situation? – Tushar Raj Jun 6 '15 at 19:58
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    That saying is not Russian originally, but Italian, from Dante; it's familiar in English, too; and you can extend it to anything. "The situation is not so black as it is painted" is perfectly good English. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 6 '15 at 20:44
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The devil is not as black as he's painted

No one is as bad as people say he is.

From: TFD Idioms

It can also be used to refer to things or situations:

The proverb the devil is not as black as he is painted, first recorded in English in the mid 16th century, was used as a warning not to base your fears of something on exaggerated reports.

Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms by John Ayto

This is a proverb and as StoneyB said in his comments didn't originate in Russian nor in English, but in Italian (it was used by Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy). From Italian it has entered many languages.

It is difficult to asses how frequently it is really used by searching corpora, because you can't filter out dictionaries of idioms (or at least I can't). But, the fact that it is found in dictionaries accounts for something: it is a proverb used in English.

Example of usage:

I have long been one of the most fervent supporters of the need of moral preparation among the population, a necessity which I feel more keenly than anyone else, especially more than those who hope to lower the effectiveness by aerial defense, or those who believe that after all the devil is not as black as he is painted.

From: The Command of the Air by Giulio Douhet, Joseph Patrick Harahan, Richard H. Kohn

(Yes, it is a translation from Italian, but it was published by University of Alabama, and if their editors didn't object, neither shall I).


To address the concern you raised in the comments: As it usually happens with proverbs, some are used more frequently than the others. Whether this one will work for you depends on the type of a research paper you are writing/translating, the specific area and the reason for which you chose an idiom as a title and in the end on your own personal preference. E.g. if it is a paper in nuclear physics it won't matter how often the proverb itself is used in English, because such titles are not frequent in the field at all; it will certainly grab the reader's attention. That being said, there is evidence that this is a proverb a native speaker of English would understand.

  • The OP has made an edit. Please have a look. – Tushar Raj Jun 6 '15 at 20:08
  • This will be a title of research paper. Do you think using "devil is not as black..." Would be relatable to people? I do not see this expression used at all! – Eka Jun 6 '15 at 20:26
  • @Eka please not that the best way to get an answer that suits your needs is to include as much context in your question at the beginning (it being a title of a research paper, referring to situations etc.). I've got some examples of usage, but I'll be able to edit later (maybe in an hour or so, definitely by tomorrow). – Lucky Jun 6 '15 at 20:58
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Sometimes people say something is a "paper tiger" or a "boogeyman" (i.e., a story made up to scare children.)

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A storm in a teacup, perhaps?

British Great outrage or excitement about a trivial matter.

But note that it emphasizes the storm rather than the teacup. In other words, instead of saying things aren't as bad, you're actually saying people are making too big a deal out of it.

However, it does after all imply that things aren't as bad as they are being made out to be.

EDIT: Peter Shor was kind enough to provide the AmE version:

a tempest in a teapot


If you want to convey that there is actually a problem, albeit a small one, try:

federal case:

informal minor problem made into a major issue

You don't need to make a federal case out of it!


Then there's the famous Mark Twain misquote:

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

  • The North American version is a tempest in a teapot. – Peter Shor Jun 6 '15 at 20:14
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    Thank you! It is still not quite right. The devil is indeed dangerous ( as opposed to teacup), but there is still a chance... Does it make sense? – Eka Jun 6 '15 at 20:18
  • @Eka: See edit. – Tushar Raj Jun 6 '15 at 20:30
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I'd suggest a saying incorporating the idiom "to blow over" (M-W, sense 3). A common phrasing is

This will all blow over soon.

The idiom is specifically about situations and not people.

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Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Every bad situation has some good to it.

The phrase, 'silver lining', was coined by John Milton in 1634. The proverb came into being in Victorian England. Further information on its origin is available from: Phrase Finder

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If you are talking about a situation that seems worse than it is, you might say

The situation is not as bleak as it looks.

where bleak means (according to Merriam-Webster) "grim" or "not hopeful."

If you're talking about a person whose reputation is worse than his or her actual behavior (or performance), you might use the idiom

His [or her] bark is worse than his [or her] bite.

which refers literally to a dog, but which is commonly applied to people who seem unwelcoming or grouchy but who are actually less hostile than they appear to be on first encounter.

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